<
>

Denard: U-M collapses a thing of the past

Arguably no college football player in the country has reflected his team's recent successes and shortcomings more than Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

When Denard sizzles, Michigan sizzles. When Denard struggles, Michigan struggles.

He's the dreadlocked, unlaced, fleet-footed dynamo for a team that has surged in September and early October, only to backslide during the stretch run. You know the track record: Michigan started the 2010 season at 5-0, only to drop six of its final eight games. Robinson started the year with a historic first month, putting himself on the Heisman Trophy radar, only to struggle in the second half, throwing 10 of his 11 interceptions.

Those are the facts. They're in the past. They can't be changed.

What Robinson and the Wolverines can do is make sure it doesn't happen again.

"The key thing is [it happened] last season," Robinson told ESPN.com on Tuesday night. "That was the past. We're moving on to the future now. We're trying to be a team that can last the whole year."

Last we saw Robinson and the Wolverines, they were walking off the field at Spartan Stadium after their first loss of the season and their fourth straight to in-state rival Michigan State. Although the game had its share of controversy, the outcome was definitive: The Spartans outclassed the Wolverines.

Robinson had made mistakes in Michigan's first six games but survived them with his brilliant running and play-making skills. But Michigan State restricted his mobility and forced him to throw in blustery conditions, which resulted in some ugly numbers (9-for-24, 123 yards, TD, INT returned for TD).

Michigan State has handed Michigan its first loss in each of the past three seasons. In 2009, the Wolverines didn't beat an FBS team after losing to the Spartans. In 2010, the Michigan State loss sent Michigan on a three-game slide.

"Being consistent and playing four quarters," Robinson said when asked the key to preventing another losing streak. "Doing what we know we can do. I feel pretty good and ready to roll. We've just got to go out there and go to work."

Following a bye, Michigan returns to action Saturday against Purdue at the Big House. The Boilers come off of a confidence-building win against Illinois and have played better since Big Ten play began. They've won two of their past three games against Michigan and need two victories to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.

The game marks Michigan's only home game in a span of five. If Robinson and the Wolverines don't respond, talk of another collapse will grow louder.

"I wasn't here, so I have no clue what the mind-set was and all those things," first-year coach Brady Hoke said of the recent backslides. "It would surprise me if this group didn't come out and play better football than we have the first seven games of the year, because of how they've gone to work."

A new head coach and two new coordinators (Greg Mattison and Al Borges) have helped Michigan turn the page on its recent struggles. But the strongest push to ensure history doesn't repeat itself comes from the players, particularly the seniors, who have lived through it.

"The leadership is different," senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said Monday. "The attitude is different. I think the main reason why it won't happen is because we won't let it happen. There's a sense of 'will not.' There's not going to be a crash and burn. This one stumble isn't going to lead to us stopping.

"We have to keep leaning forward and take a step."

Robinson must take a step Saturday, particularly with his passing, which so far this season has been a disappointment. The junior already has thrown 10 interceptions, one shy of his total from 2010, and has had only two games (Western Michigan and Minnesota) without a pick.

Robinson, who is completing just 53.9 percent of his passes, faces a Purdue secondary led by sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen, who boasts three pick-sixes in his career and three interceptions through the first seven games this season.

"I need to stop thinking about it so much, not make a big deal about it and just get it to my receivers," Robinson said, "because I know they can make something happen."

We'll find out Saturday whether Michigan can start making things happen again after its first brush with failure.